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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Freud, S. (1885). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Martha Bernays, November 8, 1885. Letters of Sigmund Freud 1873-1939, 178-182.

Freud, S. (1885). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Martha Bernays, November 8, 1885. Letters of Sigmund Freud 1873-1939, 178-182

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Martha Bernays, November 8, 1885 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

November 8, 1885

My beloved darling

Dimly aware that I have not written to you for ages and reminded by a card from you that by now you may have once more got used to Mama and would like to hear from me, I am writing to you again. All kinds of minor things have happened, but the most important fact for me is that my work is now proceeding smoothly and I am just reaching the proper pitch of enthusiasm, which is another reason why I haven't written. But I haven't made any discoveries as yet.

Yesterday my failure to write had another cause. My head was reeling; I had been to the Porte St. Martin theater to see Sarah Bernhardt.1 I am still rather tired and ravaged by the heat and the blood-&-thunder melodrama, which lasted from 8 to 12:30, but it was worth it. How shall I begin to tell you about it? I am so clumsy today at arranging things. First the minor details. We (I was with one of my Russians) paid four francs and for this were given seats in the stalles d'orchestre, which I suggest should be translated simply as the orchestra stable. One could see and hear perfectly, but I think I will have more room and be more comfortable in my grave; at least I will be stretched out. The play started at 8 P.M., had five acts or eight scenes (Theodora, of course); after the first act the excruciating heat gradually increased until toward the end it was neither describable nor bearable. And on top of that the wretched megalomania of the French for insisting on 4 ½ hours of theater as they do on five- or six-course meals.

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